IRESS has responded to increased competition in advice relationship management tools by making it easier for advice firms of all sizes to integrate its flagship Xplan software.

In December, it was announced that the financial services software provider would further open Xplan to application programming interface (API) technology, offering a stripped-back or ‘standard’ process that allows users to connect to third-party providers using API.

Instead of working with IRESS to set up manual integrations for every provider, advisers will be able to connect software to their Xplan tool with minimum interaction.

IRESS head of group product, Aaron Knowles, says clients told the company the existing process for getting new software providers connected to Xplan was cumbersome and “took too much time”.

In a crowded market, user experience can divide client bases. An IRESS spokesperson reports that it has about 30,000 domestic Xplan users, “made up of advisers, along with associated advice support functions”.

According to the Investment Trends’ 2018 Planner Technology Report, 55 per cent of financial advisers use Xplan as their main CRM software, with a further 7 per cent using it as their secondary software.

While leading the market in terms of usage, Xplan faces competition from traditional competitors such as COIN, niche players like Midwinter and do-it-all provider Salesforce. Accordingly, IRESS has been under pressure to make Xplan as useful and user-friendly as possible.

The new process – part of the IRESS Open program – lets advisers connect quickly with providers that are already on the Xplan system. Knowles says advisers won’t need the IRESS team to connect common platforms to their Xplan tool, whether they be workflow systems, document storage services, money management tools or service providers.

“Previously, we would be a major part of making an integration work,” Knowles explains. “We would have experts within the IRESS team sit with the integrator and help them understand our APIs, talk about how the data was going to pass and agree on what the support model would be afterwards if someone had an issue.

“The coolest part now, is that if we’ve integrated it once, it can be turned on for any of our other clients. There isn’t a lead time, we can just turn it on for the next one.”

Knowles says there “wasn’t any big debate” internally about offering the new standard.

“It was really just an evolution of what we were already doing, but making it more simplified,” he says.

He is hopeful that the new offering will play into the independent adviser market. Self-licensed advisers and small firms that previously lacked the time and expertise to adopt API technology will now have the same level of access as institutional users, he says.

“Institutional firms have scale and the benefit of having technology people inhouse to help with integrations,” Knowles explains. “IRESS Open helps them but it also helps the IFAs that don’t have those people in the house.”

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